Shotgun carried by Monis in a blue Woolworth’s bag
by Mary W Maxwell
Lucas Van der Walt was in the witness box on June 30, 2016. He testified as an expert witness in ballistics, to help the court understand where the various bullets went. It seems that all parties at the Inquest accept that there were 22 police bullets fired: 17 from Officer A and 5 from Officer B. Also, two shots fired by Monis.
Do you think the expert could pick up a bullet in the Café and identify whose gun it came from? Sure, not a problem, he says.
In this article I experiment with using underlining to indicate that I’m paraphrasing. For example if Counsel says to Lucas
“May I take you to Tab B, paragraph 32, where you say you can differentiate a bullet that went through glass from one that went through wood. Is that correct?”
and he answers “Yes,” I will render that as: Lucas: I can tell whether a bullet went through glass or wood.(Otherwise we’ll be here all night.) And I may handle topics slightly out of order, to increase readability.
Background and Training
Lucas: I was in the police in South Africa for 9 years before joining the NSW police in 2001. I specialize in wound ballistics. I have attended at least 400 autopsies.
At the Lindt Café I examined both the outside and inside of the crime scene within 24 hours of the shootings. Furniture had been moved around. of course.
Lucas: I have been trained to use international standards, for example I use IBIS — International Bullet Standards Integrity.
Note: at a US Department of Justice website called Crimesolutions.gov we find the IBIS rated, as if by yelp:
IBIS: “An automated ballistics imaging and analysis system that populates a computerized database of digital ballistic images of bullets and casings from crime guns. The system assists forensic experts in making identifications for investigations and trials.” The program is rated Effective, based on one study.
Examining the Guns and Bullets
As to the means of determining whose weapon fired each shot, Lucas explained that this is made possible by the manufacturer of the guns. They put a unique mark in the barrel of each gun and as the bullet passes out the bullet gets “engraved” in a way that makes it identifiable as having come from that gun.
Lucas: I examined five cartridge cases microscopically using comparison microscopes. “How many test shots did you do?” Nine. We do test shots till we get similar results to what is on the crime scene material. That’s how we know the distance that must have been between the shooter and the target.
I also tested clothing items to see any bullet fragments or gunshot propellant. I tested Monis’s backpack, pants, and waistcoat. “What conclusion did you reach as to his clothes?”
Due to gravity [the shot?] was most likely on his back.
Note: that does not accord with evidence given later by the leader of Team Charlie, who saw Monis standing. However, as I understand it, witnesses, including expert witnesses, do not know what other testimony has been given to this court or what is in the written submissions.
Lucas: The police guns used were 223’s, using copper bullets. (That is, 98% of the bullet is copper.) The bullet fragments into tiny pieces. I am confident of this. Monis’s gun used lead pellets.
[Next statement was blanked out for security reasons.]
Lucas Van der Walt then gave a long talk on how to interpret the damage to the chairs. He believes the chair Katrina Dawson was sitting on had a bullet that hit at the rear of the chair near her shoulder.
Lucas: I can tell it came from the rear to the front as an entrance looks different than an exit in the wood.
I experimented with the M4 that Officer B used.
He also explained how he makes comparisons with bullets fired into human tissue. He uses a gel as the receiver of a bullet. He also noted that IBS is a data base of all firearms in NSW.
“Was there s difference in the M4’s used by different members of the Tactical Operations Unit?” Lucas: None at all.
Counsel: “The color codes for the four walls are: the green side is Philip St; the red side is Elizabeth St; the black wall is the south wall of the café; the white window faces onto Martin Place.”
Lucas said of Katrina “She was struck by fragments of a police bullet. Wood fragments from the chair were found in her.”
[Counsel interrupts to say “This is at the top of page 6 of 15.”]
Lucas: We drew conclusion from the blood in the corner to position the most likely chair. “Test 18 of 42 in 678”.
“What conclusion did you reach regarding distance?” Lucas: “That the victim was in close proximity to the chair when she sustained the wound. A distance of .5 of a meter to 1.5 meters…. It’s safer to say approximately by a range.”
Mr Van der Walt then described how he did testing with gel. (It’s at page 40 of Tests 6-8.) He said “All 223 bonded bullets travel right through the gel.” We recovered 80-90% of a bullet.
We got large and small fragments from her shoulder, equal to 80% of the weight.
Discussion after Lunch Break, June 30, 2016
“Was Officer B struck by pellets of Monis gun?”
Lucas: That was never in our thoughts but I went back a month ago, May 2016, [but ] I knew they were copper not lead.
At Katrina’s post mortem (page 3586) the damage was in an oval shape, a ring of abrasions. It covered a 132×19 mm area.
“It was to the left shoulder and upper back and neck I focused on wound 2. There were no intact or stable bullets. The total weight of the fragment was 55 grains.”
If she was stuck by fragments of a second bullet it can’t be explained. “Very likely she was shot by only one bullet.”
In the café one would expect to see more damage. There were 10 impacts on the northwest wall behind where Katrina sat. No account for strikes on the floor.
“The pathologist cannot say in what order?” Lucas: Impossible. For the second one she has to be on her tummy; the trajectory is top to bottom. Pathologist will have to explain a person’s ability to move.
“Look at all the six wounds when we come to a conclusion?” Lucas: I disagree. I focus on wound 2 and I don’t assume she moved. Page 15.
(On methodology): “I’ll shoot the test till I get the pattern.” “The path taken is your ballistics?” Lucas: “The smallest variation can make all the difference.”
“Would a bonded bullet have made a difference?” “I don’t consider that a bonded bullet would have made a difference.”
On the following day we heard from another expert, Mr Ranieri of the NSW police. He specializes in measuring the direction of shots. He showed us an animated video of two police snipers sitting upstairs in the Westpac building, which is diagonally across from the Lindt Café.
These snipers appeared to have a direct line of fire (not used, though) into the café through one of the windows that faces onto Martin Place. In the video we see “avatars” rather than actual men.
Naturally we assumed they were sitting exactly where the real snipers had sat, as that is the basis of Mr Ranieri’s calculations of the feasibility of a shot. However, one of the lawyers bothered to ask how Ranieri knew where the snipers had sat. He said “They told me.” (That is, Ranieri had not watched, in real time, the position of the snipers)
I must say I did not get the point of the concern about the snipers having to lose some of the impact of their bullets from breaching the windows at Westpac before traveling to the Lindt Café window 45 meters away. Couldn’t the boys in Westpac have cut a hole in their own window first?
For this part of the Inquest, Lucas offered us a video of himself taken at the police firing range. He was wearing eye protection. He explained that this is because there is some backfire of bullet fragments when a shot is made through a window.
Note: personally I did not feel satisfied by seeing experiments done at the firing range.
To wrap up the day’s expert-witness testimony by Lucas Van der Walt:
There is evidence of 22 shots fired by police. Chairs and tables were hit, as was a glass panel in the café. The wounds suffered by Officer B (on the face and thigh) may have been from fragments of bullets that he himself shot. Tori Johnson was killed by a close-range bullet in the back of the head. Katrina Dawson was killed by fragments from one bullet or possibly two; these hit the back of her neck and upper back.
The judge did not clear the court during any of the expert testimony. At other times he has cleared it for (I am guessing) national security reasons. The following is section 74 of the Coroners Act of 2009:
Powers of coroner to clear court and prevent publication of evidence or submissions
(1) A coroner … may, if of the opinion that it would be in the public interest to do so, order:
(a) any or all persons (including witnesses in the proceedings) to go and remain outside the room or building in which the proceedings are being heard, or
(b) that any evidence given in the proceedings not be published, or…
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the coroner may, in forming an opinion as to the public interest, have regard (without limitation) to the following matters:
(a) the principle that coronial proceedings should generally be open to the public,
(b) … the likelihood that the evidence of the witness might be influenced by other evidence given in the proceedings …
(c) national security,
(d) the personal security of the public or any person.
(3) A person must not contravene an order made under this section. Maximum penalty: 10 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months (in the case of an individual) …
Undermined; Then Nothing Happened
Several times at the Sydney inquest, the witness has come on strong with information, then it gets undermined by a question put to him. I am now referring to the expert, Mr Raneiri, who followed after Mr Van der Walt.
He was discussing, in a technical way, the 24 shots that were fired. Twenty-two came from police, and 2 came from Monis’s gun. We in the courtroom would never have guessed that Ranieri’s audio-interpretive equipment – or whatever it was – did not allow him to know in what order the shots were fired.
Fortunately, the question was put to him: So, it’s possible that the 22 police shots could have come before Monis’s 2 shots, or after it, or in some other combination such as a few before and a few after?
Answer: Yes, it is possible.
Also, after Mr Van der Walt had made his impressive-sounding calculation of the 55 grains of bullet fragments found in the female decedent, he was asked: But isn’t it just as possible that those 55 grains were from 2 or more bullets, not just one? Answer: yes.
The odd thing is that no one gasped or laughed or even asked what value the expertise had, given the starling range of possible interpretations.
— Mary Maxwell can be reached at her website MaryWMaxwell.com
Photo credit: Supplied by the Inquest